Thursday’s Column: Carlnormous Comments
A family decided they didn’t want their little puppy anymore and for whatever reason they decided to dump this dog on the side of the road after tying it in a black plastic bag. At some point there was a woman who was driving down that road and she just happened to notice that something wasn’t right. When she discovered that there was a dog inside the bag she took it to a vet and then, eventually, to an adoption shelter. One day I decided to walk into the pet store to simply look around— and that’s when I saw him. Huddled in the back of his crate, a shaggy and skinny puppy with tan fur sat quietly, while it seemed every other dog in that store was madly barking. I opened the crate and he timidly came out— there was nothing I could do. This dog was mine. I named him “Bro” and to this day he continues to provide loyal companionship and plenty of laughs. The fact is, I’ve never been more attached to another animal and I’d never even think about giving him away.
Solomon was a man determined to find the purpose of life. In Ecclesiastes we can read about these lavish experiments that he conducts all in the name of research. In the first two chapters he writes in a very depressing manner all the while Divine inspiration drives him toward the answer to life’s greatest question. He acknowledges the fact that everybody in every generation is just a small blip on earth’s timeline. The rich, poor, wise, and foolish all must embrace the same fate. They will all die and will eventually be forgotten. Solomon is concerned that everything, his wealth and kingdom, will be left to a fool after he’s gone, and that’s exactly what happened. Rehoboam, his son, proves to be an awful king and heaps destruction on God’s people. So, what’s the point? None of it matters. Well, without God nothing matters! The word most associated with this book is the word “vanity,” which means “useless or futile.” Without God, your life is worthless and it will amount to nothing. Solomon’s discovery of this unchanging truth will remain true throughout every age because it’s a truth that comes from the Creator of life.
It’s unlikely that not a single person on earth values your life. Still, even if that were the case, because God’s hand guides you and touches all that you do, you have everything. My dog is not an expensive pure bred beauty, but to me there is no dog that could take his place. Apparently someone didn’t think too highly of him in the past, but that mangy thing lucked out and found the right owner. Who owns you? If money owns you, you’re getting left on the side of the road. If anything in the world owns you, you’re getting left behind. If God doesn’t own your life, you’ll never find purpose or lasting joy in this life— or the next. It could be that you feel like you’ve been placed in a trash bag and the world has mistreated you your entire life. Maybe that’s crushed your confidence and taken your sense of self worth, too. Though our lives are just a blip in the grand scheme of things, God can make your life a big blip by providing you with not only purpose, but with a love far too great to comprehend. The God of heaven has given us a mission and if we accept His invitation we’re going to make a lasting mark on this world— and enjoy lasting bliss in the world to come.
When it comes to the families that make up the church, what ties us together is a common bright future. While every family has it’s differences, one constant remains— the church. All strive to follow those guidelines laid out in Scripture. Paul says in Philippians 1:6, “And I’m SURE of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
The writer speaks with assurance, and that confidence is well placed. From His-story we see that God always completes His projects. He never dreams, He creates. He decided to create the world and here it is. He decided to save the world, and here we are.
Paul also would write in Romans 7-8 that the flesh tends to get in the way of the spiritual. God is perfect, but we’re not. That’s what makes us a work in progress. Aren’t we thankful that God provides the solutions to “fix” us up?
We’re involved in a great work because there simply is no better work than what is being done by His church. That being said, many of us struggle with overcomplicating things. We try to make sense of our individual lives, and when we leave God out it all becomes a discouraging battle. Where’s the peace? Joy? Confidence? Maybe it was left behind when we left God’s path. Thankfully God came down to earth years ago to teach us everything we need to know. We see that in His interactions with people. Even His twelve original followers were an odd group.
Each had a diverse background. Some were Fishermen and some tax collectors.
Each one had a unique personality too! They ranged from timid to assertive.
Each one had spiritual battles from greed to crippling doubt.
Yet each one rallied under His leadership and were united through a common hope.
What’s changed? Not much.
The personalities, talents, backgrounds, and flaws mixed together create a unique blend that make up each one of us. Yet, here we are rallied under His leadership, united in common hope.
Wasted potential is a terrible tragedy and this could not be more true when it comes to those who squander their potential in the church. Consider two common examples we find in many congregations today. There may be an older man who uses the respect, earned by his lengthy life experiences, as a platform to give strong opinions— disguised as gospel truth. Or, what about the young woman who has been labeled as a liberal? She has these new and fresh ideas, but many aren’t Divinely authorized in scripture.
Both of these individuals could not be any different, yet both have caused severe damage in their local church families. The older man clearly has a commanding presence. When he speaks, people will listen. What a gift! He could build up and strengthen the church in numerous ways— if he put his mind to it. He owns the power of persuasion, a talent others deeply desire. The young woman also has talent. She’s outspoken, energetic, and inspiring to many of her peers. She’s loving, gentle, and full of life. With so much to offer, how could she throw it all away by pushing her modern, but unbiblical views?
The elderly may argue that the problems we find in the church today are on account of young minds with liberal beliefs. The younger generation have become disenchanted with “church” because they believe it’s outdated, hypocritical, legalistic, and impossibly demanding. While there is truth to be found on both sides of the fence, it’s also true that talent is a tool that is often misused.
The elderly bring experience and wisdom. The young bring energy and enthusiasm— though I do acknowledge that these stereotypes may occasionally be seen in members of both groups. If there are thoughtless accusations, without thoughtful solutions, you end up with a congregation full of members fighting for the spoon which stirs the pot. A serious solution can only be scriptural. After all, God made people and He knows how to fix them.
Maybe we need to go back to those basic and foundational principles that we find in that thriving first century church. Despite adversity and an overwhelming hostile environment, they had Jesus’ power over the world (John 16:33). Since this is the case, may we never fool ourselves into believing the lie that the strange darkness of our time is too dark for The Light that is Christ. When this poison is digested, the devil smirks, and droves of people stumble into eternity unprepared all on account of a literal and tragically damning lie.
God has allowed us to discover hope, experience growth, and uncover a calming peace when simple Christianity is practiced. It’s this beautiful simplicity that makes God’s will a rewarding journey to seek and follow. The power of God can turn a struggling congregation into a thriving one, but there must be a radical transformation in the heart of each individual that makes up that Body. It’s radical, but it’s not complicated. It will take prayer, a reliance on God, courage to act, and a willful determination to follow Jesus wherever He goes (Luke 9:57-62).
So where do we begin? With a dedication to the understanding of Him, and those made in His image.
Last week we looked at how the world is desperate for guidance. They look in every direction for someone or something to tell them what to do. Most of the time they look to themselves for guidance and that leaves many things unsolved. Psalm 119 tells us what our guide should be. God’s word is what tells us how to live, how to act, and how to react in every situation. The world is desperate not only for guidance, but also for purpose (2 Pt. 1:3-8).
As Christians we can confidently say that we have purpose. There’s a reason to everything we do; but what about the world? Why do they wake up every day? For most, they wake up to go to work, to make money, serve self, and go to sleep.
To illustrate this, imagine going to the store without a grocery list. Without a list you end up forgetting most of the stuff you needed in the first place. You come back home and realize you forgot the milk. Without a purpose in life humans are lost. We go day to day knowing that there’s something we’re missing, but we don’t know what it is.
In 2 Peter 1, Peter is writing to them to encourage these Christians to confirm their Christianity. To be confident in their calling. Starting in verse 3 he says this,
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Because of God, we have a purpose in life. We have become partakers in eternal life. Because of this we must live a certain way. We have a goal. Peter gives us a list to build on: virtue, knowledge, self control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. If we are seeking for a purpose to life, work on this list and the end result is a knowledge of Christ that leads to eternal life.
We have escaped the corruption of the world, and now we have purpose. Peter was one who struggled with his purpose at first, he was unsure of Christ’s plan when he was on earth, and he didn’t even want to be associated with Christ after he was lead away to be crucified. He denied Christ, but after this we see his commitment and purpose in the book of Acts. His purpose is exactly like ours, he went around proclaiming Jesus and baptizing in His name. Not sure what your purpose is? Just look at how Peter lived his life, how he was committed to serving God.
My first job I ever had was when I was 13 years old. I built fences for a member at the Bear Valley Church of Christ. And talk about having no idea what you’re doing. For the longest time I’d show up every morning and have to ask how to do everything. I didn’t know how to mix concrete, how deep a fence post hole had to be dug, how to install gate hinges. I was clueless. For the average person, this is how they feel without Christ. They’re unsure, they have no purpose. Our job is to show them what life is about. This life is about getting ready for the next that is to come. Without this, we have nothing.
The world is desperate for purpose, so let’s show them the Truth.
Does that question seem strange to you? Mean is a verb defined as “intend to convey, indicate, or refer to” (Apple Dictionary, Version 2.2.2). Postmodernism claims that there is no purely objective knowledge, truth, or norms. Therefore, meaning is what you make it mean. Several years ago, James Sire gave the framework for what we see in ever-increasing, ever-encroaching ways in our society when he wrote that the postmodernist believes “human beings make themselves who they are by the languages they construct about themselves” (181). He continues, “In postmodernism the self is indeed a slippery concept” (182). How does this play out? Science is what scientists say it is. History is what historians say it is. But, morality, law, and so many other pillars of society are influenced by this approach to truth and reality. Abortion, euthanasia, sexual ethics, gender issues, and the like are subject to what institutions and individuals determine about them. Even religion, down to New Testament Christianity, has felt the pervasive tentacles of this worldview. Where does this philosophical mindset end? What’s out of bounds, if truth is whatever you and I each say it is for ourselves? Ultimately, there can be no values, standards, or absolutes. And no one wants to live in a society where those are the “rules,” if you can call them that. And no one can for long. It’s a system destined to collapse.
Winfried Corduan worse, “Relativism plays the role of Zorro in the world of knowledge. It stays in concealment for long periods of time only to suddenly appear at crucial moments, conquer the day, and go back into hiding” (37). In other words, we don’t want relativism on the operating table, when it’s a choice of saline or strychnine in the I.V. (i.e., “What’s ‘saline’ to you is ‘strychnine’ to me”). We don’t want it at our banking institution, when it’s a choice of debit or credit. We believe in absolutes…until we don’t. What’s right or wrong? Again, Corduan helps by defining truth as what corresponds to reality (39). We may have to explore, investigate, evaluate, and test, but we can ascertain it!
We don’t want to live in a world without a transcendent way to determine truth and meaning. We cannot. Meaning is meaningful! Amidst all the wild experimentation of our postmodern world, there is a trustworthy source of truth. It in internally cohesive and universally applicable. It has been successfully tried for thousands of years. But it makes expectations of us. It asks commitments of us. It involves sacrifice, self-denial, and submission. But it is right and it works! It is Divine Revelation. The Bible. May we have the courage to follow it and share it.
Corduan, Winfried. No Doubt About It: The Case For Christianity (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1997).
Sire, James W. The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (Leicester: InterVarsity, 1997).
My sons and I often say that we don’t really want to know much about our favorite singers. It seems that there’s always immorality and stories of their ungodliness. That’s as true of many of the rock, country, and easy listening singers from decades ago as those making music today. Despite my having grown up in the south, today I was able to do something I’ve never gotten the opportunity to do. Kathy and I toured Graceland with our gracious hosts, Barry and Celicia Grider. We enjoyed ourselves. This tour tended to glamorize and sanitize his life and career. Elvis Presley enjoyed a meteoric rise to stardom, and he was a global icon. He made more money than he could spend, though his lavish collections of furniture, cars, instruments, clothes, and the like shows that he tried. Despite his love of gospel music and religious roots, there were the affairs, drugs, and fast living that likely contributed to his premature death at age 42. His daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, who remembers him reading often, “He had stacks next to his bed. He read all the time…Always of a spiritual nature. Always looking. Always searching for something” (from a placard in the mansion). Gospel preacher, C.W. Bradley, preached his funeral thanks to the connection of Elvis’ stepmother. But there is no evidence that his search led him to obey and live the truth, and there’s evidence to the contrary. He once sang a song where he said, “It’s a lonely man who wanders all around, It’s a lonely man who roams from town to town. Searching, always searching
for something he can’t find, hoping, always hoping that someday fate will be kind.”
Billions never achieve the fame or wealth of Elvis, but live their lives on a similar quest. They live, always searching for something they can’t find. Solomon spends so much time, with access to wisdom, wealth, wine, and women. He found, in his grand experiment, that these did not fill the void. Instead, the answer was to “fear God and keep His commandments” (Ecc. 12:13). This beautiful hope is shared by Jesus in the greatest sermon ever preached. He teaches, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Mat. 7:7-8). These things are written to keep mankind from duplicating the future search for purpose and meaning. It has been revealed. Let’s look in the only place where loneliness is vanquished—in the presence of God!
It’s so easy to lose sight of our purpose. Even as Christians, our identity can become the things that are associated with this earth and this life. We can move along the road of life, unmindful of why we’re hear and what we’re to be doing with our time. Since at least my college days, I have asked God, “Help me make the most of my opportunities to Your glory.” He has opened doors I did not even know existed. These have not happened because of who I am, but all of it has happened because of who He is. That doesn’t mean that any of us can sit back passively until God makes things happen, but it is an exciting thing to try and order your life in such a way that He can use you for His purposes in the brief time we have on this earth.
The longer we live, the more we see our utter dependency upon Him and understand that “it is God who causes growth” (Col. 2:19; 1 Cor. 3:6-7). The Bible is His Word revealing His will, and we serve at His pleasure for His glory (Phil. 2:13). We can never forget that as long as we live in this life. None of us is indispensable and irreplaceable. Yet, for the brief period of time we’re here, we are a tool in God’s hand (cf. Rom. 6:12-13). We should work hard and prepare ourselves for service, but it’s exciting to watch God open doors and make things happen!
Life has its difficult moments, dark days, trials, temptations, and disappointments. But no life can compare to the Christian life. With all the temptation to be distracted by issues that will ultimately not matter to the dead and those in eternity, let us reflect daily on why God has us here.
If you would make for self a name, to seek for glory or for fame,
At life’s quick end, you’ll know the shame of serving self, not God.
If you make pleasing men your aim, and fawn and fumble for their acclaim,
When life is done, an empty same, of serving self, not God.
But if for Him you will proclaim, and let His glory be your flame,
At life’s great end He will exclaim, “Come home, O servant of God!”
Friday night, Carl and I flew to Bismarck, North Dakota. Why? Well, of course, we wanted to attend the “Melita Banana Days” in Melita (pronounced Meh LIT Uh), Manitoba. That, and stay in a Bed and Breakfast in Carnduff, Saskatchewan, that doubles as an ice cream shop. Saturday night, we were back in our own beds sleeping. While we were registering at the festival on Saturday morning and talking with some of the organizers, we told them we had flown up from Colorado to check them out. From what we could tell, we were the only attendees from America. They were mildly intrigued by that fact, but basically brushed us off. Which was fine. We also wanted to check out Oak Lake beach about 60 miles north of there. But it was ironic to read on their website that this event is about promoting tourism. Perhaps our tepid reception was an exception to how they welcomed outsiders checking them out.
On a family vacation not too long ago, our family visited a small congregation on a Wednesday night. We drew a few stares from the local members as we took our seat right as Bible class began. Afterward, we were briefly greeted by one member who explained that their little group was going to have a meeting to discuss strategies for being more evangelistic. We were a family of strangers to them, and we might have been newcomers or non-Christians. They would not know. None of them tried to connect with us. We were essentially shown the door. We found this ironic.
It is ironic to sing, pray, preach, teach, and otherwise emphasize about the church’s mission and then to practically ignore it. Our assemblies are foremost about worshipping God and building up the body, but even first-century gatherings were attended by those other than the local Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22-25). In our zeal to deepen and build our relationships with one another, we must not ignore or be cold toward those who “enter” our assemblies. Instead, we should seek opportunities to start conversations and create opportunities to open doors which lead them to Christ. Certainly, they should leave our assemblies aware of our intense interest in them. To do otherwise is to undermine our very purpose and mission. That would be the ultimate irony!